According to the Mental Health Program, at least 15 million Congolese have mental disorders and lack the resources western countries have. A report from the “Organisation suisse d’aide aux réfugiés” (OSAR) states that drugs used in western countries are nowhere to be found in the DRC. Most families are unable to assume the expenses of the treatment, leaving most cases untreated or taken care by NGOs like the Brothers of Charity or Doctors without Borders. Lack of government support isn´t the only obstacle: Mental institutions have to deal with the conception most Congolese coming from rural areas have on mental illness. A conception based on old beliefs and witchcraft where sorcery or demoniac possessions are the source. Cases are brought to traditional healers or praying houses, leaving psychiatric facilities as the last call. Some families have to literally take away by force their beloved ones from praying houses so they can be properly treated. North Kivu, a province twice the size of Belgium with over 6 million inhabitants, only has one psychiatric facility. Misinformation and the lack of belief in modern medicine complicate the situation in Eastern Congo creating a public health concern.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) symbolizes the long history of pillage and corruption that has been with Africa ever since Europeans set foot in the continent. From 1482 when the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão came ashore from the Atlantic near the mouth of the Congo River until this day, this country has become the private property of Kings and Dictators. King Leopold II (1835-1909) transformed it into his private property exploiting its resources and mutilating its population, earning him the right to be known as the first “genocidaire” in contemporary history. 1960 brought independence and the hope for a new beginning. However, its first Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was executed in 1961 on a CIA plot and gave way to sMobutu Sese Seko who ruled with an iron fist for more than three decades with the blessing of Western governments. In 1994 came the Rwandan genocide. Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans crossed to the neighboring country seeking shelter. This brought one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history and set the foundations for the two wars that would tear off this nation within a period of 6 years. From 1996 until 2002 the DRC witnessed two wars and survived three presidents: Mobutu Sese Seko fled to Morocco in 1997, Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and finally his son Joseph Kabila stepped in. In 2011 he was elected for his second five- years term.
These wars claimed over five millions lives, most of them civilians and refugees. Most of these deaths didn’t come from bullets or bombs. Famine and disease spread in refugee camps wiping out their populations. Rape became a tool of war and earned this state the nickname “rape capital of the world”, with over one thousand raped women per day. Some civilians took matters into their own hands and created armed militias that still exist. Despite the peace process brought by Joseph Kabila in 2002, instability has persisted in the East, especially in the Kivus. The United Nations mission in DRC, known as MONUSCO, has already become its longest and most expensive one. The extend of the conflict has forced the UN to create the “Force Intervention Brigade” on March 2013, the first United Nations peacekeeping specifically tasked to carry out offensive operations.
This nation is still recovering from the worst conflict since World War II. While the rest of the country tries to look at the future, the East still suffers the consequences of those years. In North Kivu, everyone old enough to witness the event since 1994 has nightmares to share. Mental illness is on the rise in a region where little has been done to treat people that have suffered severe traumas: Life-threatening injuries, loss of family members or been forced to run away and end up in refugee camps add to the physical impact war has on a country where life expectancy is 48. It has been 12 years since the end of the Second Congo War but its aftermath still remains in the East. Dozens of armed groups keep attacking, looting and raping while mental traumas keep rising in the third largest country in Africa. A country exposed to extreme levels of violence for the last 20 years and where there is no end in sight.